Mr Thomas Elhaut,
Director, Asia and the Pacific Division,
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
Ladies and gentlemen,
A pleasant good morning to all of you.
I am really pleased to see so many senior government officials and distinguished experts gathered here in FAO’s regional office to jointly address the critical issues relating to poverty alleviation and hunger reduction in the region.
First of all, allow me to convey warm greetings and welcome you all to Bangkok and to this Inception workshop on pro-poor policy formulation, dialogue and implementation at the country level on behalf of my FAO colleagues and myself. We are greatly honored and privileged to have you all here at the regional office.
You may all recall that the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 endorsed a Millennium Declaration setting out a global agenda at the start of the 21st Century to promote human development and reduce inequality. Among the eight MDGs, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is the first and foremost goal to be achieved by 2015.
The Asia and the Pacific region has made great progress in reducing hunger and poverty in the last three decades. Never before in human history have so large numbers of people been lifted out of poverty in such a short time span. Accompanied by manifold increase in food production and per capita income, major socio-economic indicators showed tremendous improvement. However, the region still holds the highest number of the poor and is home to some 524 million undernourished, accounting for 64 per cent of the world total. It is regretful and desperate to note that poverty and hungry are highly concentrated amongst rural households, and in particular deeply entrenched in agricultural households across rural Asia
Why such gaps? Has anything gone wrong?
Agricultural policies in many developing countries of the region have not wittingly or unwittingly helped agricultural growth on a sustained basis. A wide range of country experiences shows the agricultural sector being explicitly or implicitly taxed or wastefully protected with the benefits being captured by the reasonably well off sectors within agriculture or outside of it. In particular, small farmers with limited landholding and education, and lack of access to credit, technology and markets as well as basic infrastructure, have been largely bypassed. The results of past policy mistakes and misplaced priorities are there in some countries for everybody to see in terms of growing inequalities between the agriculture and non-agriculture sectors. Urban-rural inequalities are manifested by large-scale malnutrition in and out migration from rural areas, the growth of shanty towns in urban sprawl of Asia, and the unsustainable use and degradation of natural resources and outbreak of conflicts among people.
How to bridge these gaps and reduce poverty and hunger to create a more humane and harmonious society?
This is one of the major development challenges facing us today. Despite the rapid growth of the non-agricultural sector, the problem of poverty is not going to vanish unless it disappears at the farm level. Addressing poverty among agricultural households in today’s inter-connected world requires actions at various levels: locally, nationally and internationally. Among these, policy makers can have more confidence in being able to manage actions at the domestic level, provided there is a political will in favor of the agriculture sector, and concrete programmes to translate policies into actions. Without any doubt, there is no lack of successful examples, right here in the region for us to learn and to harness.
However, translating the positive political will into concrete programmes and investment requires a sound analysis of the core issues to provide pragmatic solutions. In particular, a good understanding of the policy constraints and the institutional structure is a pre-requisite for formulating plans of action. Experience in agricultural development in the region has shown that technological support and investment in rural infrastructure, combined with a favorable policy environment and incentive mechanism, can do wonders to rural livelihoods.
Given this fact, it gives me great satisfaction that IFAD and FAO – based on their respective expertise and knowledge as well as a wide range of past and ongoing policy work, including sectoral policies in forestry, fisheries and livestock – have decided now to further join hands in carrying out mandates for poverty and hunger eradication in the region through the promotion of pro-poor agricultural policies and dialogue at the country level. I am delighted to note that the project design includes the important components of in-country and regional policy dialogue with stakeholders. Another noteworthy feature of the project is its emphasis on capacity development in policy analysis, formulation and implementation, which, I strongly believe, will benefit the countries on a long-term basis.
The concept of the regional programme which this workshop will discuss was crafted through a consultative process at a workshop here at the FAO regional office in April 2005. Government officials from 15 FAO/IFAD Member Countries participated in that workshop and provided valuable inputs and insights. I am convinced, you will agree with me, that considerable progress was achieved along the journey from that point to the workshop today where you will reinforce your understanding of the regional programme and contribute to the design of the work plan.
As you are aware, the workshop is organized to brief the designated members of the participating countries on the features of the programme and to discuss implementation arrangements, including key roles to be played by different actors. The workshop is a forum to discuss and agree on the work plans for project implementation and subsequent preparations. It is also important in identifying preliminary thematic areas for pro-poor policy work to be carried out in each participating country and in identifying national collaborators for successful implementation of the programme.
I invite the participants to facilitate open exchanges of information on your respective country priorities and benefit from collective insights on the approach and design of the project. As the country’s focal point for this programme, each one of you has a very crucial role to play not only in this workshop but also in the success of national programme implementation. I thank you all for kindly accepting our invitation to contribute to this workshop and look forward to greatly benefiting from your valued inputs and advice. I welcome you all once again.
I take this opportunity to extend my sincere gratitude to the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives for kindly continuing collaboration in this regional programme as a partner of FAO and IFAD. Finally, I should mention with appreciation the initiative of Mr Elhaut and for being always positive and supportive to working together in the region on crucial policy issues such as to deliver as one. I welcome his colleagues from IFAD and I thank them for their interest in collaborating with FAO in carrying out this policy work in eight selected countries in the region. I believe this collaboration has further strengthened our partnership in delivering on our common mandates of reducing poverty and hunger in this region. I assure you that I and my colleagues will extend our fullest cooperation to you and your institution in this regard.
I wish you all a successful workshop and a pleasant stay in Bangkok.